Through all of youth I was looking for you
without knowing what I was looking for
or what to call you I think I did not
even know I was looking how would I
have known you when I saw you as I did
time after time when you appeared to me
as you did naked offering yourself
entirely at that moment and you let
me breathe you touch you taste you knowing
no more than I did and only when I
began to think of losing you did I
recognize you when you were already
part memory part distance remaining
mine in the ways that I learn to miss you
from what we cannot hold the stars are made
THE GUEST HOUSE
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
I read of a man who stood to speak
at the funeral of a friend.
He referred to the dates on the tombstone
from the beginning…to the end.
He noted that first came the date of birth
and spoke the following date with tears,
but he said what mattered most of all
was the dash between those years.
For that dash represents all the time
that they spent alive on earth.
And now only those who loved them
know what that little line is worth.
For it matters not, how much we own,
the cars…the house…the cash.
What matters is how we live and love
and how we spend our dash.
So, think about this long and hard.
Are there things you’d like to change?
For you never know how much time is left
that can still be rearranged.
If we could just slow down enough
to consider what’s true and real
and always try to understand
the way other people feel.
And be less quick to anger
and show appreciation more
and love the people in our lives
like we’ve never loved before.
If we treat each other with respect
and more often wear a smile,
remembering that this special dash
might only last a little while.
So, when your eulogy is being read,
with your life’s actions to rehash…
would you be proud of the things they say
about how you spent YOUR dash?
When you get old you feel you can’t be bothered because most things don’t matter that much.
Or not as much as they used to.
Or not as much as they ever should have done.
When it gets really hard and really lonely and really empty I’ll come back to the most important relationship I have, the relationship with myself.
We hold each other’s shoulders and jostle as we pose for a photo. Puja smiles, another girl who’s name I don’t know crouches in the front - it was her idea to take a photo. I feel this burst of happiness to be in solidarity with the girls even if for a brief moment. We are participating in something together. We are the same. We are girls.
I think the boy who is the local health worker is wearing pants that are two sizes too small. I’m interested to know where he learned such amazing English and what his master’s is in. Puja subtly attempts to sell him sex. She waves her hips and playfully pulls at his shirt sleeve. I can see it out of the corner of my eye. He swats her away like a fly, but I can see the small grin on his face; the look all boy’s have when anticipating the feeling of a woman’s body.
Poonam sits like a queen perched on a high bed in a room covered in Diwali decorations. Red colored lights, and blue paper, hundreds of shiny flowers plastered on the walls. Her face is white, her lips red, her saree gracefully draped highlighting a black sequin border. She is fat. Her round bare feet peak out of the bottom of her saree. She watches Bollywood all day, everyday when she is not selling sex.
I leave the dark corridor and enter back onto the street. Puja follows and puts her arm around me and we sway back and forth together laughing, the way that girls do.
Each of the sex workers in the area have madams and they live together in groups of 3-25. They play with each other’s hair, and hide behind each other when they’re shy. Looking at them reminded me of how I used to be with my girlfriends during gym class. In a constant state of communion. Remember? Shuffling up next to your best friend on the gym floor so that your knees touched, as if to say, “I’m here for you. We’re in this together.”
I’m sitting in Poonam’s room to design a mobile savings tool for women who transact in large amounts of cash and have no formal access to a bank. They’re there to give me a sharp reminder that I’m a girl and my responsibility is to stand up for my fellow girls. Speak loud and often and with intention. Our bond as women is real - I experienced it so viscerally in the brothels. It’s in our giggles, the way we whisper, and in the power we hold. With a single glance we can make the world fall in love with us.